Family Parenting

He’ll Always Have Her

I looked up from my steaming cup of coffee and watched his little face crumple.

“What’s wrong, Booey?”
“I miss Big Mamaw,” he sobbed over his cereal bowl.

I quickly rounded the breakfast bar and pulled him into my arms. I made eye contact with my husband with one question in my eyes. Where did that come from?

She’s been gone over a year and a half now.

A year and a half.

Saying that knocks the wind out of me. We’ve lived through two of her birthdays, two Christmases. I’m coming up on my second birthday without her. She always made sure to send my card first. I don’t normally keep cards, but I didn’t toss the last birthday card she sent me in 2014. Maybe I was cluttered and running behind. Maybe I knew.

I miss her hand-writing.

The boys spent the weekend at The Farm, the culmination in a three week tour of their grandparents. They’d told me stories of riding the quad out the back 40 with Papau and taking a walk back the hollow with YiaYia—both of which take them right past my Grandma’s old home. And so when I looked at my husband with the question in my eyes, I figured the close proximity to her space conjured up some memories and feelings.

“It’s okay to feel sad, to miss her, to cry. I still miss her and cry sometimes too.”

He nodded and held me close. In fact, he didn’t let go for quite some time. I just let him hold on to me while I held him tightly. Sometimes we need to feel safe and secure in our emotions, our grief, our memories; we need to know we’re supported even when we’re not smiling and joyful.

If I’ve learned anything since losing Grandma, it’s that grief is not linear. Even for kids. Maybe especially so for kids because nothing kids do is linear. Two steps forward, eight steps sideways, do a little dance, growth spurt, emotional regression, oh hey! New phase!

We adults like to pretend we have our ish in line. I grieve in the proper order, all five steps, one after the other. Don’t mind me. I’m not crying in the corner. Chin up, buttercup.

Except that’s not true either. I’ll be fine for weeks at a time and then I’ll pull out the pink tablecloth to bring some Valentine’s Day cheer to the dining room and find myself sitting on the floor, clutching it in my hands while holding it to my face. Absentmindedly looking through old photos to find something fun to share for Throwback Thursday only to be sidelined by photos long forgotten, taken with my early high school camera; were we all ever that young?

He'll Always Have Her With Him

Oh, but I’ve yet to find a picture of her with my youngest son and it breaks me in two.

I’m thankful my sons feel safe enough to share openly regarding their own grief. It makes me feel less alone in my own grief, I suppose. I want to be one of those faithful women who accept death for what it is, who rejoice that my Grandma is no longer in pain, but I selfishly want her here with me. With us. I want to sit down at her table in her home, not at her table in my home. I want to eat her macaroni, not my macaroni that is her macaroni. I want to call her when the Cardinal birds return to my yard. And the hummingbirds. And the stupid red-winged black birds.

But she’s gone. And we’re here. All trying to make sense of it in our own ways.

I told my Dad about Booey’s breakdown. We both figured it was caused by the close proximity to her home over the weekend. And then my Dad said, “She’s in his permanent memory. He’ll always have her with him.”

I smiled as the tear fell from my eye.

Living Life

On Saying Goodbye. Again.

John M Swearingen and Charlette M Swearingen, Married June 13, 1956
John M Swearingen, 1936-2010, and Charlette M Swearingen, 1936-2014,
Married June 13, 1956

Yesterday my family gathered at the cemetery near The Farm. While it hid behind the clouds all morning, the sun made its way out making the already hot and humid air even heavier. My maternal great-grandmother pushed her walker across the grassy graves to sit under a sun-blocking tent with the other family and select friends who needed to sit down during the interment.

There before us all sat the vault containing the urns of my Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s ashes. The vault then rested in front of a new gravestone made to match that of my Grandfather’s mother, older brother, and father who rest to the left. When Grandma passed last June, the three sons picked an urn vault in which both urns fit. My Grandparents desired to rest in peace together, buried next to one another. And so, on what would have been their 59th wedding anniversary, we followed through on that promise.

No pastor headed the service. My own Dad, the eldest brother, started everything off with the infamous Swearingen Emotions, and the rest of the service flowed from brother to brother to the three daughters-in-law. Pieced together from The Book of Common Prayer, my parents’ pastor, and input from the family, the service seemed a fitting farewell to two people who meant so much to me—who still mean so much to me, even in their absence.

My husband and I walked forward with the boys to each pick a flower to place upon the urn vault. Lavender and pink carnations, peach roses and red roses, and maybe other flowers sat waiting for us to choose. I went with a red rose. I can’t quite recall what the three others in my four-person family unit chose, because the tears clouded my vision. As we walked back, my husband handed me a clean tissue, taking the sopping wet one from my hand. He did this two more times during the short service; he took such good care of me.

People then took time to say a word or twenty about my beloved Grandparents. I listened to their stories; some I’d heard before, some felt new in the moment. I listened and clutched my boys to my sides and let the tears slip down my hot cheeks. My grand plan, knowing of this day for an entire year, was to write something beautiful to read at the service. But I couldn’t. I can’t find the words—still—to explain what my Papau and my Gram meant to me. I’ve tried, over and over, and it all comes up short. I still feel a little lost without them. I still try to call Grandma to ask her questions about curtains or dresses. No one has hugged me like my Grandpa used to hug me, the way he used to wrap both arms around me and lift me up off the ground while kissing the top of my head.

And so when my Dad made eye contact with me after nearly everyone else spoke, I shook my head silently. The only grandchild who didn’t speak, I feel like I let my Dad down. It’s not that I didn’t have anything to say; I will forever and always have too much to say about my paternal Grandparents, their love, and the way they helped shaped not just my childhood but my life.

After the service ended, I headed back to the car while my husband gathered two roses—one peach and one red—for me to have as a keepsake. I helped the boys into the car, the air conditioning cooling us off a bit.

While buckling himself, LittleBrother said, “Mommy, you’re the only one who knew I was crying. Wait. Did you know I was crying?”

“Yes. Yes, I did, Booey,” I replied as another tear slipped down my cheek.

As we followed the line of cars out of the cemetery, I acknowledged that this goodbye isn’t the last goodbye. We said goodbyes at each of their funerals and again yesterday. You could say that now they are finally at rest, that they goodbyes are over. But they’re not. My Grandmother comes alive every time I make her macaroni and cheese and my youngest son declares it the best in all the land. My Grandfather comes alive when I watch my sons ride on the tractor with their Papau, my Dad. And just as quickly, they’re gone again as the moment passes. Little moments like this happen so often, it feels like I’m saying goodbye over and over again.

I’ll keep saying goodbye for years and years to come. I will carry them with me forever.